Schneider E, Pochert N, Ruess C, MacPhee L, Escano L, Miller C, Krowiorz K, Delsing Malmberg E, Heravi-Moussavi A, Lorzadeh A, Ashouri A, Grasedieck S, Sperb N, Kumar Kopparapu P, Iben S, Staffas A, Xiang P, Rösler R, Kanduri M, Larsson E, Fogelstrand L,
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are commonly deregulated in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), affecting critical genes not only through direct targeting, but also through modulation of downstream effectors. Homeobox (Hox) genes balance self-renewal, proliferation, cell death, and differentiation in many tissues and aberrant Hox gene expression can create a predisposition to leukemogenesis in hematopoietic cells. However, possible linkages between the regulatory pathways of Hox genes and miRNAs are not yet fully resolved. We identified miR-708 to be upregulated in Hoxa9/Meis1 AML inducing cell lines as well as in AML patients. We further showed Meis1 directly targeting miR-708 and modulating its expression through epigenetic transcriptional regulation. CRISPR/Cas9 mediated knockout of miR-708 in Hoxa9/Meis1 cells delayed disease onset in vivo, demonstrating for the first time a pro-leukemic contribution of miR-708 in this context. Overexpression of miR-708 however strongly impeded Hoxa9 mediated transformation and homing capacity in vivo through modulation of adhesion factors and induction of myeloid differentiation. Taken together, we reveal miR-708, a putative tumor suppressor miRNA and direct target of Meis1, as a potent antagonist of the Hoxa9 phenotype but an effector of transformation in Hoxa9/Meis1. This unexpected finding highlights the yet unexplored role of miRNAs as indirect regulators of the Hox program during normal and aberrant hematopoiesis.